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TALKING WITH: Valerie Bowers, School Nutrition Director for Forsyth County Schools

Behold the kick off of Feed My School for a Week at Sharon Elementary School in Cumming.

Behold the kick off of Feed My School for a Week at Sharon Elementary School in Cumming.

Valerie Bowers is an important ally for farm to school—she’s the School Nutrition Director for Forsyth County Schools, and she’s also the 2013-2014 President of the Georgia School Nutrition Association.

Forsyth County’s Sharon Elementary School will be participating in the Dept. of Agriculture’s Feed My School for a Week program this year. The week in question, in which 75-100% of all the food served in school meals will be Georgia grown, will occur in April, but the school kicked off the program last Friday with a farmer field day!

Throughout the coming year, they will also be hosting monthly taste tests of local products, connecting food to lessons in the garden and the classroom, and holding special events like an Agriculture Career Day.

Bowers was previously the Program Manager for Food Distribution at the Georgia Department of Education, and she’s in her second year of heading up school nutrition in Forsyth County. She is excited about incorporating more local food in her district’s meals this year through  Feed My School for a Week, and we sat down with her recently to find out more about her thoughts on Farm to School.

How did you get involved with Farm to School? Several years ago when I was working at the Department of Education, [Georgia Organics Farm to School Director] Erin Croom came in one day to find out about how school nutrition worked, how we are regulated, and what it takes to put a school meal together. After that, I started learning about local procurement and did trainings for directors on procurement.

What made you realize Farm to School was important? I grew up in the big city, but loved going to farmers’ markets and visiting farms. Farm fresh food has a wonderful taste, and it’s different than the taste of food that isn’t fresh. We need to feed this food to kids. Also, whenever I’m in a classroom and I hear a child say something like, “Potatoes grow on trees,” I realize how big the disconnect is between kids and their food.

Why is Farm to School important to you personally? The food is good, it’s good quality. School Nutrition doesn’t always get positive press, but by offering fresh, local fruits and vegetables, students and parents start appreciating it.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for Farm to School in Georgia? Growth. I can see where people like Paige Holland (School Nutrition Director of Habersham County) can take their experience (with Farm to School) and share with the rest of us. We’re finally stepping out there and realizing how we can do it. I would like to figure out ways to contract with local farmers, and work with FFA and 4-H students on growing in greenhouses and canning and freezing. I want to incorporate education and an appreciation for what others do to feed us in everything we do.

What outcome of Farm to School are you most excited about? The knowledge that these kids are going to gain and the doors that will open for them. They’ll learn about all the different things associated with getting food to somebody’s table. Because of that, maybe they’ll become farmers or chefs or school nutrition directors!

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